Araucana: An Introduction to the Breed’s Key Characteristics

I could go into the history of the Araucana and it’s development as a breed but I will leave that for a later date.  I believe we are all mostly interested in what the Araucana is now, and what you should be breeding toward if you want your birds bred to the Standard of Perfection.

The Araucana is the only APA recognized breed with ear tufts.  This is one reason that these ear tufts are so important to the breed.  An Araucana hatched without two visible ear tufts can not be shown and would be disqualified at any show.  Tufts set our breed apart even more than their other two key traits which are rumplessness and the fact that they lay a blue egg.  When breeding Araucana, those ear tufts are ridiculously difficult to get right (position, size, shape, color) plus they are produced by a lethal gene which when homozygous ( a copy of the gene is acquired from each parent) results in a chick that will die in the shell at about 19 days of incubation.

You rarely see what I call a ‘mainstream’ poultry breeder attempt to work with Araucana.  They are not for the faint of heart and are just too complex, genetically, for most breeders to want to work with them.  It’s just not much fun to hatch a mess of chicks with two traits that will usually get them culled right out of the hatcher, one being a single tuft or no tufts, and the other being any semblance of a tail. 

Another issue with this breed is that both the tufting and the rumplessness, although they are the products of dominant genes, have variable penetrance in the birds phenotype.   The rumpless gene can allow chicks to hatch with partial tails.    That is something else you do not want in your flock or your breeding stock—part tails will perpetuate themselves.  You can breed generations of fully rumpless birds and still get some partial tailed chicks hatching occasionally.

Black Breasted Red Araucana pullet with tufts still in partial quill stage

The tufting trait, just like rumplessness, is also caused by a dominant gene.  Even if you breed tufted birds to tufted birds, the best you can hope for is 2/3 tufted chicks as a result but that high of a ratio of tufting rarely happens.  Due to the lethal nature of the tufting gene you will always get that percentage of non-tufted chicks who have no further use, other than breeders.  We call these non-tufted birds ‘clean-headed’.  So, a lot like Blue Andalusians, Araucanas will never breed ‘true’ if your are looking for 100% ‘potential’ show prospects at hatch.   An Araucana’s tufts should be balanced in size, shape, and color, and set evenly on the side of the head.  They should also be large enough to call attention to this most noticeable aspect of their breed type, but not so large as to cause problems with sight, or cleanliness, when they are eating and drinking.  That said when you get them right, Araucanas are glorious.  There is a reason they set the world on fire when the breed was first discovered in South America over 100 years ago.

If this first installment has not totally put you off breeding Araucana chickens, I will continue next time with more on body and feather type which is very important to this breed.  Araucanas when bred to the Standard by a competent breeder are not only a beautiful novelty breed but they are vigorous layers with excellent carcass qualities—it’s in the Standard.